Developers and builders will have to wait a while longer to get their hands on the scrumptious 344 acres of farmland that sit across the bay from Ocean City, Md.'s only Atlantic resort; that is, if they get it at all.
They had been eyeing the three-parcel package with frontage on both the Assawoman Bay and the St. Martins River long before the three churches that owned the properties decided to sell last year. But at the last minute, a mystery bidder appeared at the late April auction and literally snatched it from under them.
Not much is known about the winner, who agreed to pay $8.7 million or almost $25,500 per acre. But auctioneer Doug Marshall of the Marshall Auction-Marketing Co., in Salisbury, Md., says she told him that she read about the event only the day before while visiting Washington, D.C., and it was her destiny to own it.
The woman was later identified as Lillian Rios of New York City and McLean, Va. She and her unidentified husband are said to be developers of residential real estate, but she will not talk to reporters and a search under name at www.google.com found no easily identifiable listings.
“When people are dropping $5 or $10 million, they don't want to see their names in print,” says Marshall, making good on his promise not to reveal anything about the lady in the bright red dress. “She made me sign an affidavit. This is a third-generation auction company, and I'm a straight-shooter.”
However, Marshall did say that whatever the new owners have in mind will be “a long-term proposition.” The property “has critical areas all over it, just like any property on the water has,” the auctioneer says. “So it is going to take some imagination to develop it.”
If the acreage's future is anything like its past, what comes next will at least be colorful. John G. Townsend Jr., a former governor and a two-term U.S. senator from Delaware, who was born in Bishopville, Md., originally owned most of the land and raised chickens and strawberries on the farm. He left the land to his son, an avid outdoorsman who fished and hunted with the likes of Ernest Hemingway and Joe DiMaggio.
When John III died in 1966, he left some 300 acres to three local churches, with the condition that it be farmed for life by a family friend. His wife, Daisy, disputed the will, and one of the churches gave back about 50 acres. But the other two churches took their chances in court, which eventually ruled in their favor.
Townsend's farmer-friend passed away in 2005, and the churches, after consulting with a local, retired surveyor, hired Marshall, who knew they had something special and showered the local and national media with ads. “This is a world-class property. There's no question about it,” he says.
But since the largest of the three pieces had only a 15-foot ingress and egress right-of-way across a boat storage facility, the auctioneer had to convince the churches to spend $400,000 to buy an adjacent six-acre lot. “The churches had no choice,” he says. “Otherwise the original piece was not accessible, and it would have killed us.”